Game week presents a different feeling. The first day of training camp is akin to the first day of school; meeting new classmates and covering the syllabus. The first day of Week 1 preparation is more like arriving for the mid-term. From Brian Flores' morning presser, to the final player at the virtual podium post-practice, this team is laser focused.
With the roster in the same shape we expect to see Sunday in Foxboro, players talked about the vibe at Dolphins headquarters in Year 2 under their demanding head coach.
"I think right now there's a great vibe in the building," Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "I think in terms of the personalities and the guys that have been on this team, with the guys that were added to this team, everybody is pulling in the same direction right now. I think we've brought in the right guys."
Jerome Baker enters his third year with the team and second playing for Flores. He led the team with 1,201 combined defensive and special teams snaps in 2019. Now, with a roster that's almost 50 percent new from last season, Baker appreciates the way he and his teammates hold one another accountable.
"One thing that is unique is all of the guys we have, they truly work hard in the sense of they go hard no matter who it is," Baker said. "Our expectations for whoever is in are high. Even just rushing the passer, I might not have that much experience, but Shaq (Lawson) gets on me on how to do it. Kyle (Van Noy), he coaches me up on how to do it. The expectations do not change no matter who it is. Just having that, I think that raises everybody. It's not just the individual player; but everybody in the room, it just raises your game."
Both Flores and General Manager Chris Grier reiterate the principles of tough, smart, versatile players that love football. The pair approached an offseason that featured a war chest of draft picks and aggressive free agent pursuits under that idea – that the players will perpetuate the culture Flores and his coaching staff establish.
Last year, Miami opened the season with four captains. For Week 1 in 2020, the Dolphins have eight. Flores talked about increasing the number of players that will don the 'C' patch and how this roster, in all honesty, could've had several more captains.
"I would say there's quite a bit of good leadership on the team," Flores said. "There were four or five other guys who had votes as well, and that's a good thing. There's a good amount of leadership here and we need that. You need 53 leaders on your team. Just because you're not a captain doesn't mean that you don't have a leadership role on the team. There's some other guys who didn't get votes who I see leadership in as well."
Shipping up to Boston
Normally, mystery is limited between division rivals; especially in the case of the 2020 Dolphins and Patriots with so many familiar faces on either side. However, the most unique offseason in recent NFL memory reintroduces lack of familiarity across the league.
Jesse Davis, one of the eight Dolphins captains, talked about his role in preparing the younger offensive linemen for the trip to Gillette Stadium.
"We kind of took them aside with Rob (Hunt) or with Austin (Jackson) and Solomon (Kindley), just kind of telling them how they're going to play and what to expect," Davis said.
Few things surprise Miami's 16-year veteran quarterback. Fitzpatrick, who has played 156 games (12 against New England) in his spellbinding career, said he and the entire team have to bring their A-game if they expect to leave New England victorious Sunday.
"They're very talented on defense; very talented and experienced in the back end," Fitzpatrick said. "So for us, it's trying to throw to the open guy, trying to pick the best matchups. They do a great job of making sure that everything is contested and challenged on every play."
Fitzpatrick had success against the NFL's top ranked scoring defense in the 2019 finale. Tuesday, he talked about the approach of picking your spots and giving the playmakers ample opportunity to impact the game.
"Yeah, there's definitely a calculated risk, but I can't give you all of my secrets," Fitzpatrick said jokingly. "Their best players are going to be on our best playmakers. So the way these games go, do their guys make more plays or do ours? Going into matchups like this, I just want to make sure that my guys know that I have the ultimate confidence in them, and I'm going to give them opportunities to go out there and make plays. That's how we'll figure out who is going to win the game – if our big playmakers show up and I can get them the ball or if they can't."
Year 2 impressions
Fitzpatrick was without one of his top targets during his 320-yard performance to wrap up his first year in Miami. Preston Williams is back after a torn ACL cost the receiver the final eight games of his rookie season.
From the day of the injury, Williams' goal was always to be ready for this game.
"If it didn't happen, then in my head I probably didn't work hard enough," Williams said. "I was preparing for Week 1 and worked my butt off. We're here this week."
Williams also discussed the individual improvements from his rookie season into his second year with the Dolphins.
"The game has definitely slowed down to me," Williams said. "Last year, coach told me that I needed to have a better jump from Year 1 to Year 2. I've just been focused, trying to improve my game and learn more positions. This year there's probably a lot more on the plate. I'm just trying to manage everything."
The growth of the team in the second year under Flores is tangible, according to the players. Fitzpatrick talked about the leader of it all and what the 39-year-old coach means to this young Dolphins team.
"I think just being the head coach and leader of this team, he's meant a lot to me and to all of us," Fitzpatrick said. "I feel like Coach Flores has really grown, just as this team has really grown over the last year. Hopefully that continues and hopefully we start to see some results on the field."
For Jerome Baker, Flores' hasn't changed ahead of the 2020 season; his personality is just more visible.
"I don't think he's really evolved that much I wouldn't say that," Baker said. "It's more that people are starting to see how he really is. He smiles, he jokes around, he truly loves his players. He likes building that connection. I think now people are finally starting to see it."